As far as urban fantasy goes, the concept for this new series of magical detectives couldn’t be better. Take the spiritual home of hardboiled pulp fiction – a hard-assed Chicago of the prohibition period, oozing with booze-dealing Italian gangsters and numbnuts thugs driving flivvers – and introduce that time-honoured reluctant hero, a jaded, hard-bitten private eye with a sharp line in snappy dialogue and a withering distaste for worldly weakness. Plonk him in a scruffy downtown basement office with a sympathetic landlord. Then give him a solid mystery to solve involving the missing daughter of a serious mobster.
Oh. And let’s make the hero old-school fae nobility while we’re at it, shall we?
I’m not talking the cute and cuddly kind of fairy, either. Mick Oberon (O’Brien: geddit? Just one of a zillion examples of wordplay which author Ari Marmell can’t resist hurling around the place) is one of the scary fae; a genuine prince of the Seelie court with some serious innate abilities and no small amount of righteous ire set behind them. Oberon has a complicated back story which we learn a little about in this tale, but the majority of this story revolves around the missing girl…
…and her replacement, a changeling left in her stead some 16 years ago. Oberon follows the trail which zigzags between two realities, bumping heads with bad guys in both places and needing all of his sleuthing skills and supernatural abilities to stay vaguely ahead of the games. ‘Hot Lead’ freely mixes a metric tonne of 1930s gangster slang stacked alongside the ancient Gaelic names of the fae with dozens of references to folklore and myth, mixed in alongside genuine historical characters and events (look out for the Lambton worm; always one of my favourites).
Almost inevitably there are echoes of Harry Dresden in here; not least because Oberon wields magic, strolls between worlds and is decidedly unwelcome in his home town. But Oberon’s type of magic is of a sneakily subtle kind, redistributing luck from his foes, bystanders and even inanimate objects, and weaving it into his personal fortunes.
Just as Dresden has a problem with electronic gizmos, Oberon and machinery really don’t get along. The machines don’t mind so much, but just riding the L train gives Oberon a near-critical case of the heebies. That handicap – and of course his natural vulnerability to the cold iron of the book’s title – mean that Oberon isn’t automatically guaranteed to come out on top of any violent encounter and keeps things… interesting.
Inventive, imaginative and enjoyable, ‘Hot Lead’ grabbed my attention with a superb action sequence at the start and romped along to the satisfying conclusion. Marmell has an accessible, free flowing style which delivers laugh-out-loud one-liners with aplomb, but is also capable of genuinely tender emotional moments. He’s also introduced a raft of intriguing characters who we don’t get to spend too much time with in this novel – like the policeman who happens to be a werewolf, the snitch / leprechaun who never goes out without some gold about his person, and Queen Mab/Mob herself, the baddest gal of the Unseelie court. Some of her henchmen are truly unpleasant, and the lady herself shares several scary characteristics with The Corinthian (about whom I could still have nightmares so I’ll stop thinking about that right now if you don’t mind).
Plenty to get your teeth (sorry…) into here, and much promise for the future too. The sequel is due in 2015. Hurry up.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Hot Lead, Cold Iron by Ari Marmell is available as a paperback or ebook at Amazon